A transgender woman from El Salvador died in a Texas hospital Saturday shortly after being released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody after being held more than six weeks, sparking outrage from LGBT activists.
Johana Medina Leon was pronounced dead at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, June 1, the first day of gay pride month.
ICE’s El Paso field office director Corey A. Price said the death was an “unfortunate example of an alien who enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition.”
LGBT groups erupted at the ICE official’s defense.
“Johana’s death is a yet another inhumane failure by ICE to treat those in its custody with even a modicum of care, humanity, or dignity,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement.
Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said she was “devastated and outraged, but not surprised.”
Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman, died May 25, 2018, after being held at the same facility in New Mexico.
“ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and all the agencies and companies responsible for Roxsana’s death have only grown bolder in their cruelty, inhumanity, and lawlessness. These deaths are a direct result of U.S. government policy and will continue unless we force dramatic change,” Hayashi said in a statement.
The 25-year-old Medina Leon was encountered by Customs and Border Protection officers at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry on the U.S.-Mexico border April 11 and deemed inadmissible for legal entry. She was turned over to ICE on April 14 for “expedited removal,” at which point she claimed a credible fear of return, starting asylum proceedings.
On May 18, while still in ICE custody, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer approved her credible fear claim, allowing her to proceed with her asylum request. Four days later, she was issued a Notice to Appear (NTA) before a federal immigration judge.
Last Tuesday, May 28, while still in custody, Medina Leon asked ICE officials to give her an HIV test. It’s not clear what prompted the request or whether she had recently seen medical officials at the detention center. Medina Leon tested positive for HIV.
That same day, ICE said Medina Leon reported chest pains and was transported to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso. Later in the day, ICE discharged her from custody and closed her deportation case after holding her for six weeks.
ICE did not disclose how quickly after it learned of her HIV test results that it chose to release her after the lengthy detainment.
Transgender migrants held by ICE report high levels of physical and sexual abuse as well as inadequate food and lack of access to basic medical care. According to data released by the agency to Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., transgender people only make up 0.1% of the detainee population, yet 12% of sexual assault reports to the agency come from transgender detainees.
ICE said its Health Services Corps oversees medical care of all detainees, including a $250 million annual budget for migrants healthcare needs. Those transferred to ICE from CBP receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screenings within 12 hours of arriving at a facility and a full health assessment within 14 days, the agency said.